Review - The Devil's Red Bride by Sebastian Girner and John Bivens


The Devil's Red Bride
Written by Sebastian Girner
Illustrated by John Bivens
Colours by Iris Monahan
Lettering by Jeff Powell
Published by Vault Comics
In stores October 14

From the beautiful opening panels of war decorated on a traditional 6-panel byōbu or shoji screen to the intricate details of life depicted in 16th-century Japan, The Devil’s Red Bride is a wonder to gaze upon and a comic I have been anticipating since it’s announcement back in July.
Writer Sebastian Girner is no stranger when it comes to Japan, having lived there just over a year and also having a master’s degree in Japanese studies. You can see throughout this comic his passion for that part of the world and its history. Set during what I believe is the Sengoku period, also known by the Age of Warring States, The Devil’s Red Bride showcases this time with references to samurai warlords and clans fighting for control over Japan. This alone gives the reader an understanding that it was a turbulent time to be alive.

The story itself centres around the Aragami Clan. Notably, Ketsuko the daughter of Lord Aragami. Who looks from the first issue to be an Onna-bugeisha, a female warrior who battles alongside samurai men, but within this story, one who lives her true self in secret. Personally, I rarely see stories relating to Onna-bugeisha except for movies like Lady Snowblood, which may not be a true representation of Onna-bugeisha but still one hell of a movie. With the vast majority of popular samurai/ronin stories focusing solely on male characters, it’s refreshing to finally have a female-centric story, one that Girner has steeped in vengeance, mystery and intrigue. Girner has mentioned in a previous interview that he took inspiration from the life of a 13th-century warrior named Tomoe Gozen. And after reading this first issue I highly recommend reading up on her. I did and she has one hell of a history. It’s difficult to go into detail about the story itself without ruining the secret that concludes the first issue, but if like me you have any form of interest in feudal Japan, this comic will greatly satisfy that itch.

John Bivens' linework harkens back to the days of the late Goseki Kojima who created the stunning artwork for Kazou Koike’s masterpiece Lone Wolf and Cub. Like Kojima, Bivens does not waste any space in his panel work. There are no huge epic splash pages, just panels that flow and centralize on the characters themselves, while simultaneously showing some incredibly authentic human characterization. But when a battle scene is thrust upon the reader it is done with typical samurai brutality and outstanding cinematic visuals. I cannot wait to see how Bivens handles a samurai one-to-one katana duel in future issues (please let there be one). Colourwork by Iris Monahan works flawlessly with Bivens' linework heightening the realism that this was a literal dark time. Candlelight and moonlight subtly catching the faces of foreground characters, leaving the background characters cast in delicate shadow. Battlefields are awash with tones of red, be it from wounds caused by katanas or the stunning work on the “Red Devil’s” armour. Powell’s lettering and word balloons are placed perfectly throughout the comic, especially during battle scenes and standoffs. Giving the reader the opportunity to take in all the horrific scenes being played out. Add to all this Tim Daniel's once again impeccable design work on the covers and you have the perfect package. 

I myself have an avid interest in Samurai/Chanbara/Jidaigeki movies and The Devil’s Red Bride reminds one of numerous classics. Movies like Lady Snowblood, Sanjuro, Zatoichi and of course the Lone Wolf and Cub series all felt present in my mind while reading. That’s not to say this comic is based on any of those movies, far from it. 

It’s just that this is the comic I needed lately, a comic that caters for my love of samurai vengeance stories. Be it the works of legendary directors Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Misumi to more modern-day directors like Takashi Miike and Keishi Otomo, there is just something about samurai stories that I find so appealing. Since having the pleasure of seeing the Lone Wolf and Cub movies in my late teens my love for this genre has flourished exponentially and I’m now in my mid-40s! But thanks to Girner, Bivens, Monahan and Powell I now have something else to take that love further.